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Realising dreams in inclusive high school

Viviana González, a student at the Trans Mocha Celis public high school. It is the first free, accelerated public high school for transgender adults in Argentina. PHOTO: DIEGO SPIVACOW/AFV

Ms Viviana Gonzalez was eight years old when she realised that she was a transgender girl.

She was living in Buenos Aires with her older sister and her mother, who had moved there from Corrientes province when she was very young.

"She raised us as a single mother to the best of her abilities; we grew up fast. When I was 10, I started working selling groceries, and my sister worked as a maid," Ms Gonzalez says.

At 12, she turned to prostitution to survive.

"I was very poor and wanted to continue studying, to become a teacher or a doctor," she says. "It ended when I was denied the possibility of attending high school because they asked me to dress like a boy. I couldn't do it; that wasn't how I saw myself."

She was forced to leave school. "That's when my dream began to die. I had to become an adult early on and look for money," Ms Gonzalez says.

"Others tend to stereotype people like me - short dress, high heels, wigs, prostitution, drugs and alcohol. They don't realise we also feel, think, cry, laugh, have goals and dreams."

Ms Gonzalez is now 48, and her dream is about to come true. In December last year, she graduated from the Trans Mocha Celis Popular High School, a free, accelerated public high school for transgender adults that opened its doors in Buenos Aires in November 2011.

It was the first of its kind in the world.

An inclusive educational space oriented towards gender, sexual and cultural diversity, the school seeks to make up for the exclusion suffered by transgender people but is open to others as well.

Today, 150 students, aged 16 to 70 and above, attend classes here. Forty per cent are transgender, as are some of the teachers.

But there are also students from nearby urban settlements, people with diverse gender identities and the children of immigrants.

They all have one thing in common: Their education was interrupted and they want to complete it.

The school is named after Mocha Celis, a transvestite who spoke up against violence and was killed after receiving threats from a policeman.

She could neither read nor write. Her story reflects the vulnerability and human rights violations the transgender community in Argentina still faces.

Its members have a life expectancy of less than 35 years, and have difficulty gaining an education or finding decent jobs.

The school's founders volunteered to teach for free until 2014, when the school and its diploma were recognised.

Today, the state funds teacher salaries, but "the school's daily upkeep is covered by the teachers' efforts and donations", says principal Francisco Quinones Cuartas.

This year's graduating class is the school's sixth. Most of the subjects are the same as those taught at any other high school, but tailored to a gender-equality perspective. •

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 30, 2019, with the headline Realising dreams in inclusive high school. Subscribe